Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie cornerback, Joey Porter Jr., had a bold request, and it was granted. After the Steelers’ 20-16 triumph over the Tennessee Titans, Porter disclosed that he had approached head coach Mike Tomlin with a special request—to shadow the seasoned star receiver, DeAndre Hopkins.
Porter’s determination was clear when he recounted the conversation: “On Tuesday, I went to Coach T (Tomlin) and told him, ‘I want 10,'” Porter Jr. shared with NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo. “That’s what I was looking for. I don’t really shy away from challenges, so I was like, ‘That’s the matchup I want, that’s the matchup I need.’ Coach didn’t commit right away on Tuesday; he said, ‘We’re going to think about it,’ because they thought it was a bit ambitious.
However, as the week progressed, they decided, ‘Alright, we’re going to let you take on number 10 in some reps,’ and during the game, it was like, ‘You just go wherever number 10 is.'”
Porter found himself lining up opposite Hopkins on an impressive 72.2 percent of the receiver’s routes (26 out of 36), according to Next Gen Stats. In this matchup, he allowed only one reception for 17 yards on five targets. Hopkins finished with four catches for 60 yards, and none in the second half, as Porter’s tenacious coverage tactics effectively silenced rookie quarterback Will Levis’ primary target.
The rookie cornerback employed his physicality to disrupt Hopkins at the line of scrimmage. Porter pressed Hopkins on 20 out of the 26 routes, as reported by NGS. While Porter did draw a defensive hold that extended the Titans’ final drive, on the whole, his aggressive style of play slowed down Hopkins, resulting in a mere 1.6 yards of target separation.
Porter emphasized his respect for Hopkins, saying, “D-Hop is one of the best in the league; he’s been doing it for a long time, so I definitely have a lot of respect for him. But I’m the young guy, so I’ve got to show him what I’ve got. He kept asking for calls. I was like, ‘You’re the one initiating contact. How can you ask for calls when you’re the one pushing?'”
The Steelers typically don’t assign their young cornerbacks such demanding tasks, but Porter has been proving himself throughout the season as he’s been given more opportunities. In the past three weeks, Porter’s playing time has surged after not receiving more than 25 snaps in a game during the initial five weeks.
His performance in his first two career starts has been outstanding. Before the Thursday Night Football game, Porter had forced tight window throws on 63.6% of targets in man coverage in 2023, leading the NFL in this category with a minimum of 10 targets, according to NGS. He continued to exhibit his exceptional coverage skills against Hopkins in Week 9.
Porter remains focused on his journey, stating, “I just have to keep working, keep grinding. Some rookies reach their peak, and then there’s the rookie slump, so I just have to keep working. Like I said before, just chop wood, carry water, and look forward to the next week.”
For this rookie, the task at hand is clear: chop wood, carry water, and contain wide receivers.